Posted on | December 28, 2014 | 1 Comment
My passionate love affair with Peter Watts’ writing is well documented already, so it will come as no surprise when I say the long-awaited Echopraxia, a sequel to the mindblowing Blindsight, was absolutely amazing. Yes, the “mindblowing” bit is missing now, simply because when I came across Blindsight I hadn’t read anything like it before – this is quite impossible to do with the sequel. But the book is incredibly clever, chock-full of amazing ideas and requires use of the brain while reading, and rewarding you for that as things unravel. There may be a problem with that, however – some people, apparently the author included, believe that the book is too clever for its own good, and Watts may aim to simplify (nooo!) the now inevitable (yay!) final part of the trilogy. I, for one, would shed a tear.
However, it would seem that Watts is not alone, that Canada is fertile ground for oddball writers in general. I ran across Tony Burgess in a roundabout way, after having watched the bloody weird and bloody excellent indie movie Pontypool. Most of it takes place in a radio station during a rather weird apocalyptic outbreak of… something. It’s hard to say more without major spoilers, but it was so bizarre, yet it made a lot of sense. So, when I discovered it was based on a novel, I decided to look up the man’s bibliography, and test the waters with his relatively short not-really-a-zombie novel The n-Body Problem. What I mean is, the book unfolds after the zombies are killed, then disposed of in orbit around the Earth, but this mass of still-wriggling bodies filters sunlight in such a way that makes the survivors go maniacal, suicidal, and generally insane. The mad gore-fest that ensues makes sense in a sweaty nightmarish way, but this is a book that, if you look at the reviews, leaves people either slightly shell shocked but wanting more, or really grossed-out and wanting nothing more to do with Burgess.
Well, you can guess where I landed in that equation. Having given myself a couple of months to recover, I dove into the original Pontypool Changes Everything novel. The story takes place parallel, but in different locations, as compared to the movie. Still, I knew what the outbreak was, and it lost some of its punch in that arena, but still, it was a mad ride down a semiotic rollercoaster of a “zombie” novel that again, is anything but. Once again, this is a book that is not for everyone – as one reviewer puts it, “Mr. Burgess has made a very close approach to Finnegans Wake with Zombies” – and much like Finnegan’s Wake I suspect there are many who will feel that navigating the literary madness is too much effort with too little payoff, but there are enough people who disagree, and thus Burgess has developed a small, but steady cult following.
The name of Brent Hayward I encountered on a few blogs, as promos started appearing for his forthcoming novel. The premise seemed interesting, so I looked up his previous works, and discovered he came recommended by Watts. Well now. Taking his short bibliography chronologically, I first blew through Filaria, an odd story of a buried future utopia-or-refuge-gone-wrong. While the trope has been done already, and done enough to slowly slide towards cliché, Hayward avoids this by both not making the discovery of the true nature of the “world” the central issue of the novel, as well as not making it a logansrunesque full story arc where our intrepid heroes go from discovering the truth to overturning the system and leading everyone to a true utopia, choosing instead to stay at the level of intimate interlocking stories within the decaying world.
The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter, on the other hand, is a really difficult novel to describe in a few sentences. Almost like poetry in prose, it is a strange blend of fantasy and science fiction, like a less explainy Mieville taking place in an indeterminate far future, with a dreamlike flow that concludes a number of story arcs and brings a sense of closure despite not entirely following traditional narrative structures. Humph. Hayward is a tough nut to describe, and I guess that’s what, quite undeservedly, makes his ratings suffer and keeps his name relatively unknown, even among genre fans.